Christine Jones, 38, of Lake Point, grew up with horses in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to Wyoming and learned there were still wild horses living on the landscape. Ever since then she wanted one, and after moving to Lake Point three years ago, Jones got her chance.
The Mustang Heritage Foundation — which partners with the Bureau of Land Management and works to ensure healthy wild herds and places excess animals with adoptive owners — has a Trainer Incentive Program, called TIP, to encourage people to spend 90 days training a wild horse, or mustang, as people prefer to call them.
After 90 days, the trained horse is available for adoption or purchase. Jones was able to join TIP and was given Rosie to train.
“I call her my Soul Stang,” Jones said with a smile.
Jones explained that Rosie was her perfect first horse to train. They worked hard together in a partnership for three months, after which Jones kept Rosie permanently.
“She saved me from major depression,” Jones said. “She saw that in me and maybe she was fighting it, too. She picked me.”
Jones explained that Rosie let her pet her, and even pick up her hooves through a fence, after the two first met in Wyoming. Onlookers said that hardly ever happens, if at all. Even more amazing, Jones was able to ride Rosie after only 18 days of training.
No one else has trained Rosie. Jones is able to use her to teach children to ride and to help them with their 4-H projects. Rosie has been trained or gentled to do many things such as hunting, packing elk, camping in the mountains and more.
Rosie was gathered up in Wyoming where many wild horses come from. Jones was able to do some genetic testing on Rosie and found Rosie’s top three breeds are Shetland pony, Highland New Forest pony and Cleveland Bay, which were thought to be the breed used in the Revolutionary War.
“There’s a stigma about mustangs that they’re trash,” Jones said.
But Jones found this to be untrue. She compares domestic breeds with mustangs and finds they are the same, if not better, in some cases. The difference between a domestic horse breed and a mustang, or wild horse, is they haven’t been bred for training.
“They don’t have that entitled factor domesticated horses usually have,” Jones said.
Explained further, mustangs haven’t been bred to interact with people. It is Jones’ goal to help as many mustangs as she can and place them with good people who are educated about mustangs.
“I have not encountered an ugly mustang,” Jones said.
The steeds, Jones said, are empathetic and can read the moods of people around them. She compared them to mirrors, who can copy the attitudes of the people training them.
“If you go in with ego, you better lose it or they copy it,” Jones said.
In 1971, the Federal Government gave the title “Wild Horses” to these animals but Jones said people involved with the Mustang Heritage Program call them mustangs. To them it’s slang, meaning the horses are derived from many different breeds. Yet each one is noble and good that mostly ancestral people utilized to help them survive.
“Wild horse implies they’re still wild,” Jones said.
Jones’ hardest mustang to train was a gelding that had been gathered from Wyoming. She had 90 days to gentle him so he could be safe to teach to do other things. She said she should have sent him back to TIP, but saw his potential and kept working with him. Jones said the horse kicked her, bit her and stomped on her, but she kept it up. After 90 days, she got him to wear a saddle, be led, and to follow. He wasn’t ready to ride but in the end, he was adopted by a wonderful family, Jones said.
The wild horses have a three-strike program. If they are sent back three times they are usually put into a sanctuary set up by the Mustang Heritage Foundation. Jones said she has sent back one horse because sometimes it doesn’t work. Like with humans, despite the best efforts it doesn’t work out because the horse isn’t willing to put in the effort.
Jones’ biggest goal is to educate people about mustangs. She wants to find them good homes with resources and with educated families who know how good these horses are.
“The goal is to show people these horses aren’t trash,” she said.
Jones said mustangs could be compared to finding a dog at a shelter, not a pure breed, but a mutt, who simply wishes for a good home, and not to be hurt or eaten. Yet, Jones said she saw a mustang 18 hands high (two yards) and knew it was definitely from a draft horse gene pool.
Jones spends three hours a day training mustangs. Overall, she has successfully gentled or trained seven. Jones said taking in a mustang is a great outlet because the horse is already halter broke.
“They’re very different, more loyal and dedicated,” Jones said.
People simply have to give the horse time to learn, trust and most importantly, to become a partner, she said.